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  • Writer's pictureSt. Luke's

Apprehending Community

Judy Bevilacqua

Good Morning! One of the coolest things about “searching” the scriptures is we think we are doing the searching…but the words “find us!” It gets personal! Whatever we are working through or running from, or hungry for - It comes to us - like bread or a band aid. The Spirit speaks our native tongue! As I read through the lectionary readings to prepare, one overarching theme found me: “Community.” It seemed to be everywhere! Community was in Acts, “everything they owned was held in common.” It was in the “oil” dripping down Aaron’s beard in our Psalm. It was the “light of Christ” where we find “fellowship with each another” in 1st John…And in the Gospel, a sense of Community was restored to Thomas in the risen Christ’s very “wounds,” he was heard, and included….he hadn’t missed his ordination.

That beautiful word “Community” has been very difficult one for me….a long struggle over time… It’s not hard to figure out why. I was raised in a rather insular space, filled with mostly relatives as my social world… they were next door, across the field, down the street. I was shy, an introvert… primarily a person who was “watcher” of life in a safe little “bubble of being.” To get through social situations, I became a helper, a people-pleaser, a good girl, which is exhausting work for a child… it restricts your choices and crucifies your boundaries. I got along famously with those younger than me and those much older than me….but was NOT comfortable with my own peer group…unless they were guys. By High School I perfected an alternate way of being with people, by looking confident and at ease, being funny or even rebellious, but it was always a temporary state which could not be sustained ~ and it would exhaust me! And inside I knew, I was better at “theater” than showing my “true self.” Which basically translated: “Judy wasn’t enough.”

I rarely participated in Community events. I wasn’t a girl scout or in band or choir. Our family wasn’t involved with civic stuff, but operated like an independent, do-it-yourself island of sufficiency.

Admitting normal weakness, failure, conflict or anger was not really OK – not safe and that was basically informed the rest of my life! It’s spiritually crippling to maneuver through your life this way….holding my breath. I couldn’t relax and become at home with my normal state of being a bit broken, unfinished, and unsure. I loved and served Jesus who proved to me what it was to be fully human and fully divine, but I labored to please a God who had already accepted my own unfinished self. I was stuck there…a horribly “imperfect-perfectionist.”

In my Christian mid-life at my Baptist Church. I went to hear an elderly woman speak at a Women’s retreat. She was short and plump, The wife of the retired president of Multnomah School of the Bible. I expected something holy and inspirational and predictable!….but instead…she told a series of very plain, down to earth, even embarrassing stories about herself; her struggles, her real life, humbling herself and giving herself away like broken bread to us younger Christians. And I ate it up. I didn’t know you could do that! I was starved for this kind of food!

I wrote her later and told her that her talk felt revolutionary. I wanted to be like her! To be a transparent, to tell the truth and be a “see-through” saint!

And, sure enough over time and trials… I DID make progress, (but it takes a LONG time to become human!) I was slowly learning Judy wasn’t perfect - but she was enough, to inhabit my skin, to take up space and befriend all my insecure places. I even learned to write and speak about my weaknesses and be vulnerable, at least on paper. Over time I was asked to speak at a retreats and small groups. But till I could not seem to fully “inhabit” those words. I would be holding my breath. Community still felt so dangerous and very remote, even unattainable! There was always this protective “forcefield” around me. I longed to relax and find friendship…

Then, something happened, in April of 2011, I got a call in the early hours of the morning, that our grandson, Matteo had suddenly died. 5-1/2 months of his gleeful presence had already filled my life. I was numb, but we had to hurriedly dress and get to their house. I saw his tiny body alone on the carpet surrounded by police tape…we couldn’t even hold him to say good-bye. We ushered our 4 sleepy older grandkids into the car in a numbed state…and drove them to our house in a fog of grief. They were either silent or sobbing and all were bewildered and so lost. And so was I. We fed them and filled the bathtub and bathed them ~ as if we could wash off the sorrow. We tried to talk, but words were meaningless. At some point, Jack looked at my face, trying so hard to be brave and strong for them, to stave my coming undone, and he said “I’m taking the kids to the park for an hour.” You can be ALONE. Oh Grief is so odd: The minute they were out the door, I rushed to the laundry room, got a bucket and filled it with hot soapy water, grabbed some rags and threw myself on my sticky kitchen floor….I began to scrub that floor like a crazy woman and to howl my rage and sorrow at the top of my lungs….my body had to let go of this pain.

And suddenly, I was surrounded….like a heavenly host…or a cloud of witnesses….Here was Rachel weeping for her children and could not be comforted because they were no more… and all the women of Ramah, crying for their children and their grandchildren…I sensed them all on that kitchen floor, scrubbing with me, circling me with their loud ululations, keening out our shared grief, with all their unruly Middle Eastern “freedom”- to be loud and inconsolable. I was not alone…a community had come to weep with ME.

in that dark hour, completely undone, I found this “fellowship of suffering” that all “humans” have in common. Here was the broken heart, the broken bread, the spilled blood, the communion of the saints, the unbroken line that binds us in universal sorrow. As John Donne reminded us: “Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for THEE.”

I began to change, discovering for me, “Community” had been a sweet little noun, that I had wanted to “co-opt” into my life. But instead it’s become an action verb ~ something that takes practice…more like a “Montessori pre-school” where we learn how to play, sing and work together, learn to disagree, to forgive & be forgiven, work on our hard messy stuff and find out how to live this Jesus life ~ in a safe place…You simply can’t practice this stuff in theory, or in isolation…(because no man- is an island - No woman is an island) And I am grateful that my own church, St Luke’s, is becoming this kind of classroom!

So in closing…. yeah, I broke my arm. And the Care-Team leader could not give care, she had to receive care. And guess what, I did pretty good….by gritting my teeth, and remembering ALL the gifts in my past that have been offered me, gifts of help that I had refused. It’s a form of robbery. Did I say this is hard!

OK, True confession: This year at Maundy Thursday, I determined not to get my feet washed. Because putting my socks and shoes back on was gonna be a pain with one hand! But then when I heard those words that Peter told Jesus: “You shall Never wash my feet! And heard Jesus’ reply: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me!” I peeled off my shoes and socks and went forward. I want to be a part of Jesus. His very being. This “community” we have is called, “The Body of Christ.” So I got my feet washed.

And afterwards, in the pew….two people near me, quietly asked if they could help me get my shoes and socks back on. And I immediately said “no, no thank you ~ I can do it!” (Shake head).

Later, at home, I thought about what I had refused.….and how these two people, Chris and Debbie, had moved out of their pews…to be Jesus for me for ME!… sigh, I could almost hear Jesus whispering: “Unless you let them put your socks on, you’ll have no part of them… I realized this was gonna take practice!

Oh…the Mystery of this Community…called The Body of Christ. Amen

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